Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on October 31, 2014.

OLDER ADULTS and African Americans are about twice as likely to die in a fire compared with the general population, while the fire risk for children under 5 years old has dropped dramatically in recent decades.

Those were some of the significant findings in a new report, “Characteristics of Home Fire Victims,” by NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division.

Researchers found that, between 2007 and 2011, there were an average of 2,570 civilian fire deaths and 13,210 reported civilian fire injuries per year—and a disproportionate number of those victims were seniors and African Americans. Overall, African Americans had roughly twice the risk of fire death and fire injury as the general population, while black children and older adults fared even worse. The home fire death rate for African American children under 15 years old was four times higher than white children the same age. African American adults 65 and older had a fire death rate three times higher than that of older white adults.

“Race matters in fire, but I’m shocked, candidly, by how much it matters,” said Marty Ahrens, the report’s lead author.

The report uses data collected from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.

The report points out that studies on the issue suggest race and ethnicity don’t matter as much as economics. In affluent areas, race doesn’t appear to be a predictor of fire, though high fire-death rates are common in areas with a high proportion of low-income African American families.

Seniors, regardless of race, also have an increasingly high risk of dying or being injured in a fire, the report found. Adults 65 and older were 2.4 times more likely than the general population to die in a fire; adults 85 and older were 3.6 times more likely. While adults 65 and older were only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 31 percent of home fire deaths between 2007 and 2011. That figure is up substantially since 1980, when adults over 65 accounted for only 19 percent of fire deaths.

The study also found that, in 2011, children under 5 made up 6 percent of fire deaths, down from 18 percent in 1980.

Jesse Roman is staff writer for NFPA Journal